Quilty, Art Gallery of South Australia

The intense stare and bearded jawline of the artist, both as self-portrait and ‘hero shot’ photograph, features extensively in the publicity for AGSA’s Quilty exhibition. This is hardly surprising given Ben Quilty’s high profile, with his combination of down to earth interview style, progressive politics and bravura technique helping generate his regular media presence.

Quilty is best-known for his emotive, vigorous oil paintings. These dominate the present exhibition, although examples of his sculpture and ceramics also feature. Confronted with the frequently aggressive character of his paintings, with slashings of paint and violent distortion and fragmentation of forms, it seems perhaps ironic that his socially-engaged artistic practice began with works critiquing the destructive characteristics of youthful masculine identity. Quilty’s highly painterly style, with its connotations of combat, domination or competitive displays of physical prowess, could be read as a testosterone-driven performance of machismo, vis-à-vis Abstract Expressionism.

Similarly, Quilty’s expressive style suggests an outpouring of passionate emotions. This approach is typically used by artists to convey their angst or anguish, which can sometimes come across as egotistical and self-absorbed. However, the dominant themes of Quilty’s art suggest that he is primarily harnessing his feelings out of compassion for others, directing his aggression towards political and historical injustices which have caused unnecessary suffering.

Besides toxic masculinity, issues addressed in Quilty’s art include the intergenerational trauma (and guilt) stemming from colonisation, post-traumatic stress disorder and the current refugee crisis. Given the combination of weighty themes and Quilty’s meteoric art world acclaim, I approached this survey exhibition with a certain disquiet. It concerned me that by assuming the role of celebrity-artist-as-social-justice-warrior Quilty was effectively capitalising on the suffering of others for the advancement of his own career. However, this exhibition has convinced me that he is sincere in his convictions.

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Quilty featuring Irin Irinji and Fairy Bower Rorschach, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019; photo: Grant Handcock.

Particularly moving is the group of twelve canvases depicting levitating orange life jackets. Like the relics of martyred saints, they serve as stand-ins and memorials for the asylum seekers who wore – and in many cases died – in such life jackets during perilous sea crossings. Adding a further emotional punch, each work is named after a refugee who committed suicide while held in detention. These are powerful statements about protection sought and denied, counterfeit life vests which sink rather than float serving as a potent metaphor for Australia’s border security policies.

In two of the works Quilty has sought to invoke the exiles’ agony more explicitly through the surreal addition of a screaming mouth or mournful eye. However, this is just as strongly conveyed through the seething impasto of his painted surfaces. The global refugee crisis is an issue most viewers have only encountered through media representations, but the sheer physicality of Quilty’s paintings helps invest the topic with a forceful immediacy. We are compelled to recognise that these are real flesh-and-blood people, not just statistics or fleeting images on a television screen.

In some works, when Quilty’s highly-textured paint surfaces butt up against areas of unpainted canvas, the stark contrast feels like an act of violence. In Captain S after Afghanistan (2012) the writhing soldier’s torso becomes devoid of volume when presented as an expanse of plain white. Thus, his physical strength is rendered useless as a defence against his mental torment.

The most technically and compositionally sophisticated works in the exhibition are Quilty’s recent series titled The Last Supper. Despite admiring their virtuosity, I found these paintings both overly melodramatic and too strongly reminiscent of earlier artists, such as André Masson.

By contrast, I considered Quilty’s Rorschach paintings more memorable and satisfying. In these works views of tranquil Australian landscapes have been doubled as mirror images, resembling the eponymous psychologist’s inkblots. Adding further depth and poignancy, some of the locations depicted were the sites of colonial massacres of local Aboriginal communities. These paintings deliver an immediate, stark visual impact, before gradually divulging more menacing undertones. They succeed in being simultaneously dramatic and understated. For me they were the most haunting works in the show.

This is a powerful exhibition, but the perpetual visual and emotional intensity of Quilty’s paintings can quickly become exhausting. Consequently, it was only after leaving the gallery that I felt able to properly contemplate many of these thought-provoking works. At its best, Quilty’s art makes a compelling impression, both in the direct physical encounter and in its after-effect.

 


Words by Ralph Body

Ralph Body is an art historian, researcher and reviewer.

Title Image: Ben Quilty; photo: Daniel Boud

Getting Lost in the Art of Edvard Munch in Tokyo

I stand in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, my pupils dilating as I catch sight of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I have seen this painting so many times through pop culture, but nothing has prepared me for seeing it in real life. It’s really here, right in front of me. Well, at least one version of it (1910 tempera and oil version). I become lost in its world, feeling the terrors the person in the painting is feeling.

The Scream was one of the many paintings exhibited at the Munch: A Retrospective exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The exhibition celebrates the life of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Being in Tokyo at the time of this exhibition, I made sure I explored the show. Little did I know I would find myself lost in the world of his art while there. I found myself on a journey through loneliness, love, fear and trauma.

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With language barriers, I was left to interpret Munch’s works in my own way. As with many things I have previously experienced, my interpretations relate back to pop culture. The Kiss (1897) was one example of this. The way the couple were morphing together, it was much like the one R.J. McReady and Dr. Blair found at the Norwegian base in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I later found out this painting was in fact depicting how two people unify in love.

edvard munch the kiss

Excluding The Scream, the paintings that made the most impact on me were Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones (1933-35), and The Sun (1916). My interpretation of Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones was how lost these two people were in a strange new world. I thought of them being the only two humans on an alien planet or the last two on Earth. The Sun stood like a shining beacon at the dawn of a new world, one unfamiliar to the one we live in. These two paintings combined together drew me into a world where the everyday as we know it is gone. I began connecting them to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a book I’d recently read. I imagined these two people staring out over a world with a bright beacon rising over the horizon and children dancing through the forests that cover the ruins of once great cities.

This exhibition had me one more surprise for me, in the form of Pokémon. Made specifically for this event, there were folders, postcards and even TCG cards where The Scream was redone using Pokémon as souvenirs from the exhibition. These stood out to me as much as the visuals of the paintings themselves. Unlike most of Munch’s artworks, these were familiar to me. The way they were made though, not only was adorable but uncanny. These souvenirs were unique to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

Stepping back into the world, which was still unfamiliar to me, I smile. The exhibition was worth the 1600 yen (AUD$18) entry fee. Munch’s paintings spoke to both my creative side and allowed me to understand him better as an artist, despite the language barriers. I feel this was aided more due to experiencing it in Japanese rather than its original Norwegian. It became one of the highlights of my journey and I recommend to anyone who is going to Japan to check out a major exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.


Words by Cameron Lowe

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

The Artists of Viewpoint

 

Earlier this month, Sarah Ingham and I attended the opening night of Viewpoint, an art exhibition at the Light Square Gallery featuring nine recent graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts. The exhibition is due to end May 31th, so I thought it would be a great time to touch base with the artists and learn more about what went into this exhibition, and where they plan to go next. I was lucky enough to have a chat with a few of the artists and sit in on a talk they were giving about the exhibition process.

One of the first questions I asked was about whether their work reflected their personal relationship with the River Torrens. There were mixed responses. It seems that Annelise Forster had a strong emotional attachment to the river through her childhood memories which was reflected in her piece Stone Hopping. Yet Sophie Mahoney-Longford didn’t have as much of a connection, making her pieces, Riverbank, Ripple, and Reeds, genuine observational views. She also commented that she didn’t worry about trying to infuse her piece with symbolism, presenting her own candid approach. Thea Nicole Paulmitan chose to present a contemporary view of the river, looking beyond the river itself to the surrounding architecture in her pieces: Water & Bridge, Bridge & Water, and Hazy Torrens. Bernadette Freeman regularly visits the Torrens and says: “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stop and reflect on its beauty and complexity.” As Forster said during the talk, they all chose different things to focus on, they all presented “different viewpoints”.

As with selecting different views and interpretations of their River Torrens theme, each artist had a different style or medium with which to approach their task. The mediums ranged from traditional oil painting, acrylics, paint pouring, sculpture, and photography. Each piece reflected the individual style of the artist, and, as Mahoney-Longford said: “provide our individual responses” to the subject.

Jane Heron-Kirkmoe was one of the artists who spoke to me about her art making process. She was lucky with the gallery space as an unplanned breeze impacted on her piece Spill the Overflow perfectly. She typically works in white and in multiples, forming objects with a contemporary edge. Her works are intended to provoke thought and encourages viewers to “find their own narrative”. She concedes that while her focus is on materiality and the beauty of the everyday, the work is not overly commercial.

While it was important to some of the artists to simply use this exhibition opportunity to express themselves, it was also important to others to make work which was sellable. Mahoney-Longford mentioned that two of her three pieces have already been purchased, and that it was a deliberate choice by her to leave her pieces unframed and therefore more affordable. It can be very important to have works that can be sold in order to balance the cost of creation.

During the group discussion, Ann Podzuweit made a point about the importance of artists having a day-job, as they often pay for your art. Bernadette Freeman made an interesting analogy, which I can personally relate to: art shops such as Eckersley’s are the artist’s lolly shop, but the sweets are much more expensive and add up much quicker. Heron-Kirkmoe also spoke about the importance of a day job, telling me the day job allows her to make art –time management can be a challenge though. Many artists tend to be in the same boat here. It is a delicate balance.

When I was speaking to Paulmitan, I asked if she were to start again with her pieces if she would approach them differently. She was adamant that she would take the same approach. It’s a part of her process to take photos and manipulate imagery, even putting together physical collages before settling on an idea and beginning to paint. Viewpoint is the first of Paulmitan’s exhibitions to feature both her painting and photo-manipulation. While she didn’t originally intend to display her photography, Paulmitan is very happy she took a step away from the traditional mediums predominantly featured in the exhibition.

I think that the most important lesson that these women shared is that it is integral to produce work that “expresses yourself, reflects you, and that you love.” Kylie Nichols stresses that she loves making her work, which is something that artists of any practice can aspire to. Forster mentions how important it is to find what works for you and use it. For her, it is being a social artist and being around people who she can discuss her work with. For others, this might be working independently.

In terms of advice for those considering their own exhibition with a group, these artists had plenty. It’s all about organisation and playing to your strengths. You need to get organised early. Look at grant applications and sponsorship opportunities, do what you can yourself (online advertisement via social media), consider the space you need and how it can be best used to the advantage of your works. One important thing to remember when part of a group exhibition is that you’re never on your own. And as Heron-Kirkmoe said, “aim for the stars, but have one foot on the ground as well.” And most of all, just enjoy the ride.

So where next for these artists?

Mahoney-Longford was considering getting involved with SALA, however her primary focus at the moment is to work on her commissions and her personal projects.

Heron-Kirkmoe is currently back in “making-mode” ahead of a coming exhibition at the Fleurieu Art House in August.

Paulmitan is currently considering further study and, artistically, she intends to pursue her photography rather than painting. In June, her work will be on display at the Youth Scape Exhibition.

Nichols will be exhibiting at the Goodwood Library as a part of ‘SALA Goodwood Road’ and is busily making for another group exhibition coming up in October at the Fleurieu Arthouse.

Freeman is currently creating works for exhibition in SALA.

Forster arrived at the gallery fresh from her studio and paint splattered, so it’s safe to say she’ll be continuing with her art with two SALA exhibitions and an exhibition in Melbourne on the horizon.

I didn’t get a chance to speak with Podzuweit, Todino, or Kukolj to discover their plans, but I am certain that we will continue to see their names and works around Adelaide in the future.


 

Photography by Nica Kukolji

Words by Kayla Gaskell

 

Viewpoint at Light Square Gallery

Ann Podzuweit: Torrens Reflections.


When we think of Adelaide’s River Torrens, vivid colour and bright lights isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. However, the ‘Viewpoint’ exhibition currently showing at the Adelaide College of the Arts was full of playful splashes of colour and movement that captured the life and movement that occurs in and around the Torrens every day.

The River Torrens is a significant icon of Adelaide, one that the artists from Viewpoint thought appropriate to choose as their focus for the exhibition. Last week at Adelaide’s Light Square Gallery, nine artists displayed their wondrous works for everyone to see. The artists included Annelise Forster, Bernadette Freeman, Jane Heron-Kirkmoe, Nica Kukolj, Kylie Nichols, Sophie Mahoney-Longford, Thea Nicole Paulmitan, Ann Podzuweit, and Natasha Todino. All recent graduates, they have come together to host their very own exhibition. Talking to one of the feature artists, Nica Kukolij, she told us that the exhibition was planned during their lunch breaks between classes: an astounding effort during their final year of study.

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Nica Kukolj: Reflect & Ripple, Immersed, Twilight Torrens, Sunset Stroll, Soft Dewdrops, Festive Flora, and Dusty Dawn.


The name of the exhibition, ‘Viewpoint’, conveyed the variety of the artist’s differing interpretations of the river. Layered oil paintings, manipulated photography, wire sculptures and bamboo boats all express the same intense connection to this sacred place.

Rich in history and vital to the location on which Adelaide now stands, the Torrens was the perfect muse. The river is, and always has been, a crucial part of our city that is essential to the original land owners and the early European settlers’ survival. The artists of Viewpoint have displayed this in their exhibition as an icon for creativity, showcasing its natural beauty and prolific wildlife through a variety of mediums.

Proudly displaying our festival state, some pieces incorporated small bursts of colour to show the artistic side of Adelaide in full swing. Artist Natasha Todino used oil, acrylic and glitter to present the beauty and glamour of our state. Thea Nicole Paulmitan used manipulated photography to depict a surreal dreaminess around central Adelaide, which was a reflection of bustling ‘Mad March’ and the bright lights of the Fringe.

Apart from these, one particular piece that stood out was the beautifully serene oil on paper paintings by Sophie Mahoney-Longford. The careful placing of the minimal objects in the painting draws the eye around the soft, murky background. This was really resounding with the audience because, while others had used colour to capture Adelaide’s festival side, this really felt like the every-day Torrens, quiet and peaceful.

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Sophie Mahoney-Longford: Riverbank, Ripple, and Reeds.


The exhibition also reiterates the artistic touch that women have in our community. The exhibits created a textual experience, expressing an inner monologue of not only the flora and fauna in Adelaide’s center but our city’s renowned festival nature.

Being at opening night was a pleasure. The artists were absolutely glowing with pride. Surrounded by family, friends and adoring fans, they were completely awash with the happiness of creation and contribution to society. The atmosphere of excitement inside the exhibition just added to the ambience of the whole experience. Both of us would highly recommend attending this exhibition is you wish to bask in the pride of living in such a beautiful city.

 

Viewpoint will be on show until May 31 at Adelaide’s Light Square Gallery and all pieces are available to purchase.

 


Words by Sarah Ingham and Kayla Gaskell

 

Loving Vincent

Every frame of Loving Vincent is hand painted, making this film truly unique and visually stunning. The entire film comprises of some 65,000 frames, each hand painted by one of 125 painters. The pay-off is massive, with every individual scene appearing as lifelike as possible while also surreal. The accompanying music, by Clint Mansell, only adds to the overall effect of the film. The soundtrack is truly stunning and perfectly attuned to the tone of each scene. This film is definitely an experience, a feast of both audio and visual delicacy. But Loving Vincent isn’t a wonderful film solely because of its artistic beauty. Its story is intimate, heartfelt, and deeply engaging.

Set a year after the death of artist Vincent van Gogh, this film explores Vincent’s life and death through the people who knew him. We see all of these individual stories unfold through the eyes of Armand Roulin, the son of postman Joseph Roulin. Tasked with delivering one of Vincent’s letters to his younger brother Theo van Gogh, Armand finds himself becoming more and more intrigued by the artist’s death. The end result is an engaging story that challenges the viewer to look at van Gogh through the perspectives of several very different individuals, all of whom viewed him in manners both flattering and damning.

What makes this story truly stunning is that the characters we meet along the way, as well as Armand himself, are all people Vincent van Gogh painted during his lifetime. With an incredible attention to detail, the film recreates famous paintings and reveals each character as they appeared in portraits by the artist. These characters all work together to create an intimate portrait of van Gogh, each of their stories giving the viewer a deeper understanding of the artist, his work, and his humanity.

Although this film covers a lot of dark subject matter, it treats its characters with respect and tenderness. While it would have been easy to portray van Gogh as deeply disturbed and suicidal, this film tries to dig beneath the surface of van Gogh’s infamous struggle with mental illness. What emerges is a more complex character of a man who felt deeply about the world around him, the effects of this feeling leading him to both despair and joy. Too often popular culture treats issues of mental illness with an overly simplistic attitude of pity or disgust, but this film does neither. Instead, it makes the viewer sympathetic to the very human suffering of van Gogh while also showing him existing beyond his illness.

You don’t need to be a lover of art history to appreciate this film. It has so much to offer in terms of its beauty, its heartfelt story and its complex and loveable characters. More than anything, it’s a film that challenges the viewer to think about the stories we tell about people and how they can act to create differing portraits. Vincent van Gogh is an artist whose life is still the subject of discussion. Was he a madman? A genius? A lonely depressed man? Or someone who lived for the beauty in the everyday world around him? This film asks you to consider just who Vincent van Gogh was and, ultimately, what his life can teach each of us about our own.

 


Words by Lisandra Linde

Lisandra Linde is an editor, writer and Hons. student. She is currently working on her thesis on women’s writing and mental illness at Flinders University. She can often be found performing at spoken word events around Adelaide. You can follow her on Twitter @KrestianLullaby.